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Fall from Grace

by Wayne Arthurson

It’s thrilling, for a reader, to discover a new amateur detective devoid of stock clichés, unique and refreshingly human. To the august company of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce and Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe we can now add Edmonton writer Wayne Arthurson’s Leo Desroches.

When we first meet crime reporter Desroches, he’s being invited into a crime scene tent. A dead young woman has been found in a field, and Desroches, as the first journalist on the scene, is granted the unusual privilege of viewing the corpse. The detective in charge explains, “I wanted to give her a face, to make you and maybe the people who read your story understand that there was a real person there.” The action that follows only hints at Desroches’ complexity. There are secrets in Desroches’ past – references to gambling, being down on his luck, having seen a body before, and some previous connection to the detective – but nothing can prepare the reader for the moment, less than 30 pages into the novel, when Desroches does something completely, unexpectedly desperate.

A former gambling addict who lost everything, Desroches is now looking to rebuild his life. Part of that involves taking the job on the crime desk at Edmonton’s pre-eminent daily paper. Another part involves re-establishing contact with his wife and children, whom he hasn’t seen in years. And another part involves searching for justice for the murdered young woman, a prostitute who, it gradually emerges, may be the latest victim of a serial killer whose existence is being denied by members of the Edmonton Police Service.

Fall from Grace unfolds slowly and deliberately. It isn’t a pedal-to-the-metal thriller: it’s altogether deeper than that – a novel that works splendidly as both a mystery and a character study. It looks like Arthurson has future Desroches novels planned. They’ve just been added to my “must read” list.